"This is another clever ruse scammers have devised to get people to answer their phones," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. "You look down, you see your own number on caller ID...obviously you want to know what it's all about. We're advising people to override that instinct."
Since the start of summer, Better Business Bureaus across the country have been hearing from harried consumers who are confused – and annoyed – by these calls, which are often dialed by computerized calling centers.
Here's how the scam works: Your phone rings and you see your name and phone number pop up on caller ID. If you answer, a computerized message claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates, which of course, means they will require your credit card number. In some cases, consumers are informed they can supposedly opt-out of future calls by pressing "1." People who do so can count on receiving more calls of this nature from other shady telemarketing firms. Any action consumers take tells fraudsters that a phone number is 'good,' and that number is added to phone lists which scammers then sell to other scammers. In any case, these promises of lowering your credit card interest rates are not legitimate.
The practice of using technology to alter or disguise the true number of an incoming telephone call is known as "spoofing," and its use is growing among criminals who also use this technique to pretend they are calling from a well-known company or government agency. By hijacking the names and phone numbers of organizations with which you are familiar, the callers attempt to gain your trust in hopes they can trick you into handing over personal or financial information.
Per FTC rules, telemarketing sales calls with recorded messages are generally illegal unless you have given the company written permission to call you. Some prerecorded messages are permitted — for example, messages that are purely informational. That means you may receive calls to let you know your flight's been cancelled, reminders about an appointment, or messages about a delayed school opening. Prerecorded messages from a business contacting you to collect a debt also are also permitted, but messages offering to sell you services to reduce your debt are barred.
Other exceptions include political calls and calls from certain health care providers. For example, pharmacies are permitted to use prerecorded messages to provide prescription refill reminders. Prerecorded messages from banks, telephone carriers and charities also are exempt from these rules if the banks, carriers or charities make the calls themselves.
"The most ingenious aspect of these 'spoofing' calls is the lack of information available to consumers," added Badgerow. "If they report the issue to the FTC, what are they to report – their own phone numbers?"
Nevertheless, BBB has confirmed the FTC does want to hear about these calls and other suspect robocalls. People can file complaints by visiting www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC is interested in the time and date the call (or calls) occurred and what product is being offered.
Before responding to unsolicited phone calls, BBB advises:
Never give out any financial information – If you did not initiate the call, do not provide bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers over the phone. It's best to end calls that make you uncomfortable or that you're not sure about and follow up with your bank or financial institution – or government agency – directly.
Don't rely on caller ID – Remember, scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations – or even from your own phone number. Caller ID is a helpful feature, but it's far from foolproof. Keep your guard up.
Trust your instincts – If something doesn't seem right to you, end the call and report your experience to BBB, by calling 800-646-6222 or visiting bbb.org.